Planning an Interplanetary Voyage

This activity was developed by science teachers and published at: Galvão et al. (2006). Avaliação de competências em ciências: Sugestões para professores do ensino básico e do ensino secundário. Lisboa: ASA.

The planning of a space voyage is the pretext for a reflection on environmental issues, namely the need for the management of natural resources as an indispensable condition for survival. This activity may be carried out in the subject areas of science (Physics and Chemistry; Natural Sciences) from the 3rd cycle of Basic Education (13 to 15 years old students) and from Secondary Education (Physics and Chemistry; Biology and Geology).

Skills involved

Substantive knowledge - by using different knowledge from the area of biology, ecology and physics to define survival proposals; by explaining the importance of technology in preserving the environment and maintaining the quality of life; by understanding the importance of the balanced and responsible use of natural resources in maintaining life on Earth; by understanding the interactions that are established between science, technology and society.
Reasoning - by collecting and analysing information; by relating knowledge from different areas of knowledge; by formulating value judgements; by being able to justify their arguments and analyse and evaluate the arguments of others; by taking decisions; by demonstrating organisation and management of work and critical thinking.
Communication - by presenting, explaining and debating ideas; by expressing arguments in defence of his/her ideas; by being able to use the potential of the Internet in research on this subject.
Attitudes - by cooperating with peers; showing tolerance towards peers and their different opinions; being able to discuss and defend values such as democracy, responsibility, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and respect for human beings and nature.

Learning situation

The activity starts with the problem of planning a space voyage to Mars during which the use of life-sustaining techniques is not allowed. In order to promote accountability and allow for individual assessment of the group members, each student is assigned a different role: 1) doctor in medicine; 2) scientist; 3) mission manager; 4) engineer, who will be responsible for designing and maintaining the spacecraft and the crew. Each set of students with differentiated roles will meet, giving rise to varied plans and options.

The activity involves two distinct tasks:

Each student collects and analyses information with the aim of writing an individual report (maximum two A4 pages) summarising their contribution to this journey. There are a number of extremely interesting web pages on the subject that students may wish to consult:

• NASA: United States Space Agency
• ASK-A-SCIENTIST - NASA-wide resources: Extremely interesting site with varied information on space travel, the universe, the solar system, effects of weightlessness...
• Exploring Mars -
• Life on Mars? -
• Mars Missions -
Both the research and the report of each expert may be guided -by the following questions:

Role Some guiding questions for the research
Doctor in medicine What health problems result from the absence of a gravitational field? How can these problems be overcome? How can the health of the crew be ensured?
Scientist What supplies will they need? How will they obtain food for such a long journey? How will it be stored? How will the air and water needed for the crew to survive be recycled? What will be done with the rubbish and other waste? How will the crew be able to bathe? How can they eat fruit?
Mission manager Who should be part of the crew of this ship? Who and how will play the leadership of the crew? What rules will have to be defined to ensure the success of the mission? How can funding be obtained? How can the need for the trip be justified to the public?
Engineer What shape will the ship take, in order to optimise its movement in space? What materials will it be made of? How will it move? How will it obtain energy to operate and maintain its systems? What is its maximum possible speed?

2. The second task involves drawing up a proposal for space travel with the contributions of each of the experts. At the end, each group will present their work to the whole class, who will in turn discuss the suitability and feasibility of the plans presented.


In order for assessment to have a formative dimension, students should be informed in advance of the criteria that will be used in assessing their work. The assessment of this activity should focus both on the individual reports and on the construction and presentation of the plans.

The assessment of the reports may be carried out according to the following criteria (in brackets you will find the area of competence to be assessed):
• Knowledge demonstrated on the issues concerned; correctness of the information and concepts presented (Knowledge).
• Quality of the information collection and analysis process; plausibility of the proposals presented (Reasoning).
• Ability to use the Internet to obtain answers to the proposed questions; clarity in the presentation of the information collected and analysed (Communication).

The assessment of the group work (construction of the voyage plan) can focus essentially on the areas of attitudes and communication, in particular on the following aspects:
• Accountability for assigned roles/tasks; type of personal intervention; attitude towards conflicts; intervention in problem solving; time management (Attitudes).
• Oral participation (Communication).

The following rubrics can be found and used by you and your students at different moments of the module after download!

Return to our collection of formative assesment practices...!